Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Panna Cotta with Raspberry Coulis

I think that Panna Cotta might be an "in" desert right now. It seemed to be the go-to desert on Top Chef and I've seen it on at least one other cooking show. We were recently at local eatery Anteprima (highly recommended) and I finally gave it a shot, with their lemon variety. Wow. Then this month's Cooks Illustrated had an article about developing the perfect Panna Cotta recipe. So, it had to be made. In a meager deference to copyright, I'm only reproducing the page with the recipe.

If you've never eaten or even seen it, Panna Cotta is very similar to Flan or Creme Caramel. Both are milk based, but the big difference is that Panna Cotta, the Italian version, is gelatin-based, while Flan is an egg custard. Panna Cotta is a little bit lighter, I think, and may be more flexible with flavorings.

It is pretty easy to make. I had some inconsistent results in unmolding the result, which I never have with flan. The desert "tore" a few times, where one section would hold to the cup a bit longer than the others. When I tried dipping the cup in boiling water as recommended, the desert melted some, giving a run-off of milk. In part, this is to be expected, as the recipe does call out making a few extra cups. It might also be the toughness of the gelatin.

In the article, this aspect seemed to be of most concern to the author. Gelatin can take up to 12 hours to fully set, apparently, though it's servable after four. So, the amount of gelatin you use for a same-afternoon serving is different (i.e. more) than if you are making it the day ahead (i.e. less), if you're trying to have consistent results. I made the day-ahead version.

This tasted great, but I've only had it that one time before, so, honestly, I'm not entirely sure if I got the texture right. I suppose the only way to find out is to taste test at Ante Prima and others…

I made the raspberry coulis the next night, as my frozen berries weren't thawed yet, it was getting late and even if I had made the 4-hour formulation, it wouldn't be ready yet.

The one thing I forgot was to puree the mixture before I strained it. I don't think that was too big a deal. However, the mixture started out really, really tart. That may have been an effect of using the frozen berries (and it was definitely them and not the lemon - I tasted a leftover from the bag to check). Regardless, I was able to cut it decently with a couple more spoons of sugar.

The flavor balance came out right, but the sauce was definitely too thin. Much more thickening was required than I could have expected in the refrigerator. I definitely should have drained the thawed berries - that didn't even occur to me until after I added the sugar. I think there was well over ½ cup of juice alone. No matter - I reduced it down by about 1/3 to get a good consistency.

What I don't get is how this is a "fast" dish for Top Chef. It's easy to put together, but how to you get it set within the narrow time frames (usually a total of 2 hours or less) they have to deal with? They must be pushing the gelatin content and/or practically freezing it.

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